For new chief engineer, a long journey

It’s 2013, so it shouldn’t be a big deal that MassDOT has just appointed its first woman in the role of chief highway engineer this past week, but considering the department’s longstanding reputation as an old boy’s club, it is.

It was announced Wednesday that Patricia Leavenworth, formerly a district highway director, will oversee the construction and maintenance of the state’s roads and bridges.

Praised for her “innovative spirit” by state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, Leavenworth is a 26-year veteran of the division.

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She said her appointment is especially poignant considering how some in the department received her as she came into the job fresh out of college.

At that time, she was told she would not be allowed out in the field on construction projects because it was considered too dangerous.

“I’ve seen the agency grow and change a lot in the way it treats women,” Leavenworth said. “It’s a very different place than it was 26 years ago.”

As she assumes her new role, Leavenworth said, she hopes to use technology to streamline the design process and get construction projects finished faster.

One project she said she’s particularly eager to get started on: the revamping of the Longfellow Bridge, a complex endeavor that she said will be “fascinating.”

Three years of construction, the elimination of northbound car traffic, and 25 weekends of Red Line diversions — what’s not to love?

“I try not to look at them as headaches but instead to see them as challenges,” Leavenworth said. “It is stressful, but I think that’s how we grow as an agency.”

Leavenworth lives in Westminster, so has a personal stake in keeping the state’s roads in top shape: Her commute to work is two hours each way.

She usually listens to the radio in her car or conducts business over the phone — only with hands-free technology — but even so, she acknowledged, “it’s long.”

She said she loves the view from Route 2 going west to Northampton, but her other favorite stretch of road?

“My driveway,” she joked.